Never had a friend like him: hanging with Aladdin the Musical's Genie Anthony Murphy
Wed. June 7, 2017 by Matt Inawat
...and we were holding and just smiling and beaming with energy!
anthony murphy as the genie on aladdin the musical
The national tour of Disney’s hit Broadway musical Aladdin premiered at the Cadillac Palace Theatre to rave critical reviews and an explosive box office, extending the run until September 10, 2017.
We got the chance to hang with none other than the grand Genie himself. Anthony Murphy plays the amazing, larger than life wish-granter in the national tour which debuted in Chicago.
In the interview, Murphy talks about the role, growing up, being in Chicago and celebrating Pride. The entire interview is available in audio format below.
For tickets and a complete performance schedule for Aladdin, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
MI: Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a part of the Aladdin musical. What drew you to the project and what was that process like?
AM: It started because a friend of mine, Ariel Jacobs, who is the sister to Adam Jacobs who plays Aladdin in our production. We've known each other for a while, and we were talking one evening, and she was playing Jasmine in Australia at the time, and she said "Why aren't you playing the Genie in Aladdin?"
At the time I was working at another job and couldn't get an audition and things like that. So she said, "Well send me your headshot and resume and a video and I'll send it to the team and maybe we can get you in for an appointment". She did. I got in for an appointment, and then a few weeks later here we are. I find out I'm gonna be playing the Genie in Aladdin.
It all happened so fast and so quick and It was amazing. We rehearsed here in Chicago for about a month, and that was amazing, and ever since we opened Chicago audiences have been so receptive and kind and loving to us. It 's just been amazing.
MI: You are playing the larger than life Genie, are there any previous roles that would prepare you for that? How do you create that Genie personality?
AM: You know, the best thing I tell people is that the creative team, Casey Nicolaw our director, Scott Taylor our associate director, they were always - from my first audition through the end of rehearsal - they always said "just be you. We don't want you to think about Robin Williams, who played the Genie in the animated feature film. We don't want you to think about James Monroe who won the Tony for it on Broadway. We want you to be Anthony Murphy as the Genie and create your own."
So with that I just pulled sources from all parts of my life, from different pop culture references that I saw and said, "I think that is something the Genie would reference", or things in my own personal life - members of my family. A portion of it is in my mind a mentor of mine, Alex Harris, who is a recording artist. I channel a lot of his showmanship. And there's Cab Calloway, I did a lot of research on him. There is that man's song and dance style there too. The Genie encompasses a lot of different people and a lot of different references.
MI: So is there part of Anthony in the Genie, as well?
AM: Oh I think that is at the core of it. I think at the core of it is me. And then I get to add all of these layers on top. But at the core I think it has to be me. He has to be full of joy and happiness, and with no ill intent in his heart. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body and that's kind of how I live my life. I try to be joyful and happy.
MI: And total authenticity, right?
AM: It really is, it is amazing.
MI: So what is it like working on a grand scale Disney production?
AM: It is amazing! When we walked into the theatre and saw the set and the lights and the orchestra playing, for the first time, it was like that sounds like the cast recording - the Broadway cast recording. The orchestra is amazing and the sets are beautiful and the costumes are so detailed. You forget about those things until you get into the theatre cause you're in the rehearsal space. And you get into the theatre and you fall in love with it all over again. You fall in love with the magical theatre.
Disney does not spare anything when they do a show. They go full out, they pull out the big guns for this one. It's amazing to work for them, they treat us so well. It's a really great company.
MI: So you mention costumes. How many Swarovski crystals were on your outfit during ‘Friend Like Me'?
AM: There are so many! Let's just go through the ensemble. On the men's pants, just the gold pants alone, has 1500 Swarovski crystals. Just on the pants!
I think the whole suit is something like around 5000 or 6000. And the gold in the Cave of Wonders is actually the same gold used on C3-PO.
MI: Oh, cool! Thats a cool piece of trivia!
AM: Fun fact. Right?
MI: So on opening night the entire theatre just gave you the most amazing standing ovation at the end of that scene, right in the middle of an act - which is totally unheard of. What was that energy like?
AM: It was amazing. It was so amazing. If you were there you could actually see us all laughing on stage while holding our pose, because we just couldn't fathom - they just loved it so much, and it was so amazing and the response was so wonderful and we were holding and just smiling and beaming with energy.
And for me, my family was there. My parents were there, my grandparents were there. One of my grandmothers was there who had never seen me in a musical, this was her introduction to me in a musical - she lives in Georgia. So for me it was about them. Seeing them standing up and my mom crying and acting crazy and hootin' and hollering that was the thing for me. That was made it all worthwhile.
MI: What was the most unexpected thing that has happened during a rehearsal or performance?
AM: Well, that would have to be when the power went out during "Friend Like Me"!
MI: Really? When was that?
AM: In one of our performances. It was really early on, maybe our third or fourth show in our first week, and in the middle of ‘Friend Like Me', during the Disney medley, after ‘Part of Your World', I go to the "Ba Da Ba Bapa de ba de bapa" and all the power goes out. Mic out, lights out and I just kept singing for a good like 10 extra seconds. I was like "it's gonna come back on, it's gonna come back on." And of course the stage manager shooed me off stage and we lowered the curtain, until it came back on and the audience was so awesome and understanding and I made some funny jokes about the power going out.
We finished it up and they were cheering so much and they didn't even care that it went out. They were excited that we came back and finished the show. It was so awesome.
But yeah, that was probably the craziest thing that's ever happened on the show. It was crazy!
MI: So take us back a little bit. Where did you grow up? How did you get your passion for theatre? And how you got started in the industry.
AM: I am from St Petersburg, Florida. My mother is a singer and my father is a music engineer and also runs an after school arts academy. The arts was always in my blood. It was always in my family and was always a viable option as a career.
In the first grade I actually started in the arts. I was at a school and I wasn't doing well academically and behavior wise and the teachers actually wanted to medicate me and my parents said "no - not at all, not even a little bit," and they transfered me to a performing arts elementary school. It was very new at the time and I got there and all of a sudden I was thriving - they wanted to put me in the gifted program. They said "he is extremely smart and very talented and bright and we think he is going to succeed in this program." And I did. And it's been a straight line ever since.
Then I went to a performing arts high school and Otterbein University and studied directing with a dance minor and then moved to New York and started auditioning and living the dream. I did a couple of off-Broadway shows that introduced me to the theatre community in New York and I got to experience that life, but I hadn't been in New York long actually less than a year when I ended up getting this job. it was fast and very amazing. I'm so thankful.
MI: So coming from Florida, are you a Disney lover?
AM: Of course, I went to Disney all of the time. I love Disney. They are the best, and, actually Aladdin is my favorite Disney movie. So this a whole full circle thing. And ‘A Whole New World' was the first solo I sang in school. It has been a full circle moment for me. It really has been amazing, an amazing journey.
MI: So on that note, if you were able to play another Disney character in a Disney musical who would it be?
AM: I know exactly who it would be! It would be Baloo from the Jungle Book. I love the Jungle Book. It was my second favorite one and Baloo is such a great role.
Cause it's the bear necessities (singing), the simple bear necessities. Yeah, I love that.
MI: So are they turning that into a musical? Do you know?
AM: I hope so! I think they did that at the Goodman a few years ago, actually! They should if they haven't. They should.
MI: So let's turn the interview to Chicago. Do you love it?
AM: I do! I'm so excited. After this, I am going to go out and start exploring. We were in rehearsals from 10-6 every day so there wasn't really much time to go explore, but now that we are open finally, every couple days I want to see more. I'm so excited.
MI: So do you have any favorite Chicago restaurants or clubs or hangouts?
AM: Oh, I haven't done that much exploring to have any favorites yet.
Where have I even been? I go to the Dearborn alot because it is right down the street from the theater. But I'm look for some good suggestions though!
Yeah I went down to Millennium Park the other day. I'm gonna go there again today! It's beautiful over there.
MI: So picture it, you, Anthony, get to rub the lamp and get three wishes - same rules apply as the story - what would you wish for?
AM: Well my first wish has already come true, to play the Genie in Aladdin. I know that is so cheesy, but it is so true. My second wish would be world peace. And third wish, just a happy and healthy family. That's what it's gonna be, yeah.
MI: So what else do you enjoy on your days off?
MI: Yeah, you guys work so hard, there's so much energy in that show!
AM: Exactly! A part of our show that makes it so successful is it is an amazing time and it is so joyous, but it is full of so much energy. We are from the time the curtain up until the final curtain drop we are giving 100% and so it takes a toll. So normally, my days off are just for relaxing my body and recovery - getting a massage.
MI: So are there any charities or causes that are really near and dear to your heart? That you like readers to know about?
AM: There are two of them specifically. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, as being a part of the Broadway community that is a major cause that the Broadway community has been working on. Even in college, I would put on shows and send the money off from Ohio, so that's been a part of my life for a long time.
The other is The Arts Conservatory for Teens - the after school arts program that my dad runs. I went through the program, and then I taught in the program after I left school for a while, so they are near to my heart and so I will always support them.
MI: So you led me right into my next question. So what advice would you give to a young kid who wants to get into the theatre?
AM: I would say keep working. Keep studying. I would have my parents take me to Borders Bookstore back in the day and I would go sit in the musical theatre aisle. They don't even have them anymore, but I would sit and listen to the soundtracks of recordings in the section - and get books and plays and read a bunch of stuff.
Keep working, keep believing.
Being ok with musical theatre or acting or the arts being Plan A. My parents always said "Plan B is a plan to fail." I told them I wanted my plan A to be musical theatre and they supported it 100% and I focused my time and efforts on that and if that is what you want you have to go and make it happen.
MI: That's great advice.
AM: Thank you!
MI: So, it's Pride month in Chicago...
MI: So are you and any of the cast going to be able to join any of the fun, amazing festivities around the city this year?
AM: I want to so bad! We are trying to see. We do 8 shows a week, so it is a very busy schedule for us for the summer we have two shows Saturday, two shows Sunday, it is a very busy schedule for us.
But we are definitely trying to coordinate some things to get out there because I love Pride! I've sung at St. Pete Pride for three years in a row and excited to experience Chicago Pride. I hear it is amazing!
MI: So, for final question: If you could sum up your theatrical life in a musical title, what would it be?
AM: Like an already existing musical title? It would be....
MI: I know, it is a tough question..
AM: A straight line from A to B the Musical. 'Cause my life is in a straight line from A to B from beginning to Broadway.
MI: Well, Anthony thank you so so much. I hope you have an awesome weekend and have a great show tonight!
AM: Thank you so much!